William Morris

Art and Democracy [as reported in the Standard)

"Art and Democracy" was the subject of a lecture to the Hampstead Town Club last evening by Mr. William Morris, the author of "The Earthly Paradise."

The Lecturer said when the Roman Empire fell there sprang up a "popular art," which he defined to be the due and worthy delight which a man felt in his own handiwork; a delight which the worker felt he could communicate to others as it had been communicated to him by preceding generations. After the Renaissance of three hundred years ago there was a new social event. A gulf opened between the cultivated and uncultivated classes, and into the gulf popular art fell. To-day it was slumbering, but not dead. We could have no artistic houses while there was one architect, and each workman was less even than a machine— only part of a machine. There should be a mind to every pair of hands. Every effort for freedom for the people stirred the charmed slumber of popular art. If art was to revive and beautify the country, there must be these conditions— Workmen must work in good workshops; they must have no fear of being unable to earn an honest livelihood; they must have some leisure, and every honest occupation must be considered honourable. It must be considered a shame to have no other occupation than the base occupation of capitalist. The capitalist class was a sickness of society. Conscientious employers of labour should consider whether certain wares when made were worth making, and whether men could be happy in making them. At present there was a commercial war between capitalists making shoddy things to sell aud working men. Men had to do the work of machines, and machines the work of men, and both disastrously. He hoped that society would some day be placed on a better basis, and popular art would revive to beautify the country.

Bibliographical Note


Art and Democracy



London Evening Standard, Monday 2 April 1883, p.3 (there is a similar short notice of the talk in the Hampstead & Highgate Express of Saturday 7 April 1883)


Morris gave a talk with this title 3 times in 1883: to the Hampstead Town Club, to the Clerkenwell branch of the Democratic Federation, and to the Irish National League. He wrote to the DF talk organiser:

I shall be ready with something or other on the 15th at Clerkenwell and also I shall be happy to read the Hampstead one at the Surrey Rooms on May 6th. You need not change the title for the Clerkenwell one, as it is much the same thing said in other words.

So the talks given at Hampstead and to the Irish National League had an identical source manuscript, while the Clerkenwell one was different and written for the purpose (he told his daughter Jenny that he was writing it on April 2nd; it is possible that it was the text called Art and the People: A socialist's protest). However, there are no known summaries of the talk actually given to the DF or to the Irish National League (though the talk to the INL was described as 'full of interest').


  1. To the Hampstead Town Club, Heath House, New-end, Hampstead, on 1st April 1883. Morris wrote to Jenny the next day:

    I duly preached my sermon at Hampstead yesterday; the audience if not very large was at least as large as the room would hold: they were very polite, and buttered me, as Mr. Jorrocks would say, most plentifully; I didn't think there were many working men there; the others seemed mainly very 'advanced' as the slang goes....

  2. To the Clerkenwell Branch of the Democratic Federation, Crown Hotel, Clerkenwell Green, Sunday 15 April [Source: Reynold's Newspaper, 15 April p.5]
  3. To the Irish National League of Great Britain, at the Surrey Rooms, Blackfriars Rd, Southwark, on Sunday 6 May 1883 [Source: Dublin Weekly Nation - Saturday 12 May 1883 p. 5]. Morris wrote to Jenny:

    I duly gave my lecture on Sunday at the Irish National League rooms in Blackfriars Rd: all or most Irish there; and Parnellites to the backbone; but dear me! such quiet respectable people!